Tea planting and bush management
• Plant populations are usually between 12000 to 25000 plants per hectare. Lower populations give stronger bushes, possibly a slightly longer development period before achieving production. Local knowledge and research would be needed to determine the best option.
• Planting patterns were designed to suit hand plucking and other operations, commonly “beds” were at 8 foot centres with 1.5 to 2 foot pathways, 2 rows of plants were planted 4 foot apart (2 foot either side of the centre line) this gave roughly a 6 foot wide tea canopy, with pluckers able to reach in 3 foot each side of the path. Pathways tend to become narrower with the growth of the plants, due to the slow movement of hand pluckers this has minimal effect on productivity.
• When attempting to use mechanical harvesters on layouts designed for hand plucking difficulties often occur.
• With a new planting the opportunity to design the layout to suit the available machinery is a huge advantage.
• Ease of movement with the machine greatly improves productivity. Wider pathways are advantageous, more so with high labour costs.
• Usually beds that match the machine width are ideal. Wider machines tend to be less manoeuvrable, more likely to jam against tea bushes and slower and more difficult to turn around, likely to need larger headlands at the end of the rows.
• Wider machines may require additional operators.
• Following a deep prune tipping in can be done with the STH provided that the leaf is not excessively long and no hard or “red” wood is present.
• Following a skiffing it is essential that the STH does not grip maintenance foliage or wood, with hand skiffing the table will never be perfectly even, this means that only the longest regenerated growth can be harvested, the balance of the crop will have to await further growth. With STH versions that are on wheels a skiffing tool such as a hedge trimmer or conventional tea harvester can be fitted to the same or a matching wheeled frame a very much more accurate operation results.
• Due to the selective harvesting mechanism less damage is done to immature and short leaf, the crop recovers quicker after harvesting and plucking rounds may need to be reduced to achieve optimum leaf quality, this has also improved crop yields.
• Desired table creep is better managed when plucking rounds are maintained in line with crop growth. A good system is to adjust the machine height with the wheels on a level floor, a chart could be placed on the wall showing previous plucking height for each field, dates and planned height changes.